The passionate pursuits of a Franco-Manitoban entrepreneur

August 12, 2019

Paul Balcaen, a former aviation museum curator, decided to go into business to pursue his passion for wood. In January 2019, he started his own Mini Lumen company.

Paul Balcaen, 53, a Franco-Manitoban from La Broquerie, studied industrial design and went on to become an aviation museum curator. But he was always drawn to vintage graphic design and woodworking.

“For me, it became the obvious way to combine my two interests in wood and design.” The enthusiast developed his love for visual arts as a boy, when his father introduced him to photography.

A meeting in November 2018 prompted Balcaen to make his dream a reality, when CDEM advisor Joel Martine told him about the Self-Employment Benefit (SE) / Travailleurs indépendants (TI) program. SE/TI aims to provide the best possible advice and mentoring to new entrepreneurs of all ages so that their first business experience is a positive one.

According to Martine, who coordinates the program, “every client comes out ahead because they all learn a great deal about themselves. They gain knowledge about how business works along with all the key components of success, including problem-solving.”

In January 2019, Paul Balcaen decided to take the SE program and start his business, which he called Mini Lumen. Why the name? “Lumen means “light” in Latin. I wanted to find something that symbolized the laser I use in my craft.”

Paul Balcaen laser cuts pieces of wood to create his Mini Lumens, which are decorative objects representing iconic Winnipeg buildings, landscapes and more.

The entrepreneur explains how he makes a Mini Lumen: “First, I create a drawing on my computer using graphic software, or I draw lines from existing photographs. Then, I send them to the laser, which cuts fine layers of wood. After that, I simply have to assemble the pieces to create these mini-frames, which are like miniature windows.”

Paul Balcaen does everything himself, handling the entire production chain from manufacturing to creating the package design to the packaging itself. His most recent series of Mini Lumens is inspired by Apollo 11.

Paul Balcaen holds up one of his latest creations: a Mini Lumen inspired by Apollo 11.

To get to where he is today, the entrepreneur took part in several CDEM sessions to guide him through the process, including the SE program. He also conducted a four-month canvassing exercise with CDEM’s support and is still in the Self-Employment Benefit Program, which wraps up in September 2019. “CDEM encouraged me and gave me invaluable information,” says Balcaen.

The 50-something entrepreneur is off to a good start and has already secured a few contracts with nearby museums, including the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) and the Manitoba Museum. He has also created partnerships with souvenir shops at the Forks and near Riding Mountain National Park.

He just launched his own Esty Web page where he receives orders for shipment.

Paul Balcaen loves his work and hopes to eventually “further develop my products by making theme-based series on famous people and Canadian cities.”

His only regret is that he should have started all this sooner!